A Year Went By

charlottesville virginia handprinted letterpress poetry on handmade recycled paper

Full circle, since my last post with holiday letterpress prints… a year has passed and so much has changed. But here I am, back with another holiday pressing update, proving that many things also remain the same!

letterpress printing charlottesville virginia

This past weekend I had a booth at the Charlottesville Waldorf School Annual Holiday Bazaar, my first foray into the real life public realm with my letterpress goods. And everyone was so nice and supportive! I have no idea why they wouldn’t be, especially that particular crowd, but I admit to a certain trepidation at any sort of public display. Being self-taught at the letterpress and in most of my design work, there’s nearly always a certain level of feeling like an imposter – I find myself expecting someone to call my bluff.

Amanda Polson charlottesville va letterpress studio

And no one did. OBVIOUSLY. Because that would be ridiculous. And because at this point I actually do sort of know what I’m doing, not as much as I can and will with more learning and practice, but enough to share the art and get other people excited about it too. Enough to create lovely things that make people happy. Which is really the point.

letterpress cards and prints hand made in charlottesville va

Holiday Printing

In what was most likely my last run on the letterpress before we move, I printed a small run of Holiday prints and cards. Now that the chilly winter weather is upon us, the garage “studio” is too cold for printmaking – not only do my fingers get chilly, but the ink won’t spread on the icy metal ink disk. For these prints, I set a lamp over the disk and lit a candle underneath, and aimed a space heater at the rollers for a couple hours to get the press warm enough to use.

twinkle holiday letterpress print

The prints are 5×7 on glossy card stock, nice for adding a little holiday cheer to a shelf or mantle.

letterpress peace cards

The cards are printed on Crane Lettra card stock, a luxurious thick paper with a nearly handmade texture that is lovely to hold. Because it is so textured, getting the ink to apply evenly is a challenge. I learned that many printers will dampen the paper before printing, settling the fibers to get a more even print. Due to the chill in my printing location, I opted to embrace the paper texture this round instead.

twinkle card holiday letterpress

None of my holiday “collection” this year are really limited to the holiday season, I think we can use a little peace and twinkle any day of the year.

The Twinkle print and card and the Peace card with the circle are currently available in a very limited quantity for sale at in Living Traditional Arts Shop.

Our Itsy-Bitsy Home

our little house

As of last week, we are the owners of this little matchbox home in Charlottesville, Virginia. We have big plans and a tiny budget: a challenge for sure, but an exciting one! This is the listing photo, so it already looks a bit different, but there are many more updates and re-arrangements to be done to fit our family. I can’t wait to get rid of that red trim for one thing, though that might have to wait until spring since it’s become remarkably chilly in these parts the last few days.

The house was built in the 1950s and had one family living in it until it went on the market this year. The children who grew up there were the sellers and they seemed to really care about the house. After having been through some pretty sketchy places in our house search – looking on the low end of the market will bring those out – it feels so nice to be in a place with good happy memories built into the walls.

Fun facts:

  • When the bathroom light is switched on, the power outlet in the room is turned off. Hairdrying, electric shaving, and any other bathroom electrical needs must be done in the dark as nature intended.
  • The original neighborhood by-laws, written in the 20s I think, state that we may not use the property for a cemetery.
  • Also in the by-laws, we may not build a dwelling on the property under 100ft, unless it is for the servants quarters. So that’s good to know.
  • The attic is partially finished, with the seams in the cardboard-thin wallboard taped with masking tape.
  • Do you like look of shag carpet but don’t want the hassle of a thick, soft, dirt/small-toy eating floor? Do like us and go with vinyl in a 3-d-look shag pattern! (Also comes in berber).

On Delegating and Collaboration

I’ve been thinking about delegating lately. Working freelance, I’m on my own quite a bit with my projects and if I come across something I haven’t done before, I quite enjoy learning how to do it. Usually.

There have been times when it seemed a concept was floating just out of grasp and handing it off to a specialist would have been such a relief. And so it dawned on me, slowly, in that way obvious ideas sometimes do, that I am allowed to delegate. That having a network of specialists must be an integral part of freelancing, yet somehow it is something I’ve never seriously considered. But now I am realizing how important it is to work together – it sounds so self-evident – both for the relief at being able to call in backup and also for the social aspect of collaboration, sharing ideas, putting actual working brains together to problem solve.

And of course I want to research this, so I ask you: When do you delegate? At what point do you say “enough!” and hand a project over to someone who already knows what they are doing and maybe even specializes in doing it? I’d really like to know!


I think I’ve avoided delegating a lot so far because I had an idea that if someone asks me to do something related to my field, I should be able to do it. And my field is broad and ever expanding as I find new interests, which means somehow I convinced myself I should be an expert at all the things; often things that other people do as a full time job. And the fact that there is no real way to be an expert in so many areas at once has been frustrating. So while developing a network of trusted collaborators is not easy and letting go of having full control over every aspect of a project is scary, the weight that lifts when I tell myself I don’t have to know everything is astounding. I didn’t know I was carrying it. There is an immense freedom in having some focus.

And as glaringly duh! as this all may sound, I really don’t think I am alone in this problem. There are industries built around convincing people they can take care of everything themselves, particularly as it relates to a small business and particularly as it relates to what I do with web and graphic design.

I see it a lot and I get it. If you are just starting your business selling handmade toys online, you know you need a website and business cards but you have a really small budget. So the obvious choice is a do it yourself system where you plug in your photos (which you took) and your copy (which you wrote) and your graphics and logo (which you designed). And maybe at some point you realize that all the time you are spending doing this part of your business – because it is time consuming – is taking away from time you could be actually doing the part you love (making the toys, in this case), but it also isn’t costing much up front and its an opportunity to learn new skills. It is a tough balance.

And, even being a designer, as much as I would like to work with small businesses on their projects, I do – clearly, see above – get it! But also, as I recognize the importance of collaboration and delegating in my own work to allow for focus in the places in which I am most interested and knowledgeable, I am feeling more validated in recommending my services to others. You can delegate to me and I will delegate to you and we can get to know each other in the meantime and new projects and ideas will arise… it’s all quite exciting!

Friday Links: What We’re Reading

favorite picture books for toddler

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a Friday Links, and our reading (particularly of the child/picture book variety) has changed quite a bit – we are into big picture book territory now! So here’s an update of our favorite books at the moment:

Alfie and Annie Rose, by Shirley Hughes – there are a lot of books by this author, featuring Alfie and his little sister Annie Rose. I remember them from when I was little, I think my little sister really liked them. They are perfect for a 2.5 year old, with funny little stories that are totally relatable (going to a birthday party for the first time, getting new shoes) and sweet rhymes and poems, all with really wonderful sketchy watercolor illustrations. The author also wrote the same types of stories and poems about a little girl named Katie and her brother Olly, and we like Moving Molly and Dogger too. I could actually do an entire list of Shirley Hughes books we like, they are the definite favorite these days.

Just Like Floss, by Kim Lewis – Our family has a special place in our hearts for border collies, and this sweet story is about puppies! I think there are other Floss books, but this is the only one I’ve read so far.

I Dance In My Red Pajamas, by Edith Thacher Hurd – a quirky and cute story about spending the night with granny and grandpa and how they really don’t seem old at all. (As a side note, how is it that amazon has this book for either one cent, or one hundred fifty dollars?!)

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, by John Burningham – this was a story my mom read to me when I was small, and she brought it to us when she visited recently. I wouldn’t have remembered it, but as soon as I saw the illustrations it was familiar in that particularly comfortable way of a much loved book. Putting these links in, I see on amazon that there are other Mr. Gumpy books – I never knew!

A New House for Mouse, by Petr Horacek – a cute story about a mouse, with clever windows in the pages and a sub-text joke that I don’t think my toddler gets. But she’s not much for subtext in general. More of a literal child, maybe.


These are a few of our favorites. We keep encouraging Dr. Seuss and Paddington Bear, but tepid response so far. What are your favorite picture books?

The Little Reader on the Letterpress

I printed a short run of my original illustration, The Little Reader, on the letterpress. And they are now up for sale at Living Traditional Arts Shop!


There will likely be more available at some point in the future, so I won’t call this a limited edition run, but if you particularly like the green color, hop on over and pick yourself up a print! The size is 5×7 and they are printed on a very heavy weight cardstock, suitable for framing or just propping up for a little reading inspiration.

Oh what a beautiful Day (glow)!

oh what a beautiful day - letterpress on handmade paper

I wasn’t sure what to expect from dayglo printing ink. My printer friend grabbed it off a shelf as sort of an afterthought – “try this,” he said. It sat for a while by the press while I played it safe with traditional black. I wasn’t actually certain just what color it would be and I couldn’t really picture any of my current designs being playful enough to make it work.

But then I, sort of accidentally, had this plate made and I decided to try it out. And, as you can plainly see, this is some pretty great stuff. The prints above are made on handmade paper I had left over from my wedding invitations a few years ago.

More bright prints most definitely to come…

‘Pressing News

There has been some letterpress activity around here lately, which is such a good thing in so many ways. I was encouraged by a local print shop owner to print several designs for his sales reps to include in their portfolio: an extremely generous opportunity I jumped at and just the incentive I needed to spend some quality time with the press.

Letterpress print Hemingway Quote

I’m hardly an expert printer yet. The finesse of fine printing is coming slowly – practice seems to really be the best teacher at this point, though the books and online articles are indispensable for reference. And so far I have done only single color printing, though of course I’m itching to try more complex designs. Using photopolymer plates instead of hand setting type means the options are wide-open design wise. My main constraint is the small size of my press, a Chandler and Price Pilot press which is a table top platen press with a printing area that doesn’t easily exceed 5×7″.

As an exercise in reminding my future expert-printer self how little I really knew at this point, here is How I Make a Letterpress Print:

1. The first step is to sketch out designs. I should always start with a pencil and paper, but often the doodles happen digitally in Adobe Illustrator. How things start is somewhat dependent on the type of project, but I do think that getting off the computer and sketching is super important so I’m making an effort to do that more.

2. Regardless of the first step, the designs are then finalized in Illustrator.

3. And then they are sent off to the wonderful people at Boxcar Press who do magical and mysterious things and then a few days later I receive a very exciting package containing my designs in the form of photopolymer plates.

printing on chandler and price letterpress

4. Now we get to break out the ink! I love the smell of ink. I also am aware that the ink and accompanying clean up solutions are fairly unhealthy to breathe, which is why my press is currently located in the garage. I’ve been using offset printing ink that was given to me by a kind and generous printer in Vermont when I first got my press. The important thing about ink and letterpress is that less is best. A little goes a long way. Too much and you will have stringy drippy prints, ink-clogged plates, and a lot of clean up. Don’t ask me how I know this.

5. A few dabs of ink are spread onto the disc – the round part at the top of the press – and the handle is pulled repeatedly, allowing the rollers to spread the ink evenly across the surface. This part is fun: crank, clang. Crank, clang. Crank, clang. It’s a great left-arm workout. My left arm is going to be ripped.

6. The plate, which is like a thick plastic sticker, is stuck onto the base (a gridded piece of metal that is kept in the chase and held in place with furniture and quoins). Placement is key, particularly on a small press such as mine. To print as large as possible in the circumstances, I got a base that nearly fills my chase. This means that I have to be very careful where I place my gauge pins (little metal clips that keep the paper in place while it is being printed) and grippers (metal arms attached to the press that also help hold the paper in place) so they are not pressed onto the base during printing.

7. Then comes arguably the most important part: adjusting the packing – the layers of paper upon which the printed paper sits, allowing for an even and clean impression. I use phone book pages for packing because they are very thin and we have a cupboard full of yellow pages that are never referred to anymore. The packing adjustments are where the art of printing really comes in. I had a realization of that recently, as I was grumbling my way through the process and just wanting to print already: this is printing. What comes after is the manual labor part. This is the finesse, the learning process, the problem to be solved. I feel like I have a lot to say on the subject: grand parallels between printing and Life that seem so profound while I’m working out the details of why the left bottom corner of the print is faint while two lines up is getting ink splotches but of course come off as trite when actually written down. Something about slowing down, appreciating the process, living in the moment…


8. And then, pulling the prints. The part where it all pays off. The paper slides onto the gauge pins, the handle is pulled and released, the rollers go up over the plate, re-ink on the disc as the paper presses against the plate, return down as the paper peels off and a fresh print is pulled from the press. I usually can’t help but examine each print as it comes off, checking for errors before remembering that it is identical to the one before.

Except, of course, none really are identical. That is the real beauty of a little hand press such as mine and a good part of the reason letterpress is becoming so popular again. Although the press is a marvel of antique engineering, there is an undeniable quality of “handmade” about each print. Small imperfections – or variations, rather – are inevitable. Each printing session is a learning process: an opportunity to develop the balance between practicing patience and attention to detail when adjusting the press, laying down the ink, and paying attention to the pressure of each pull on the lever, and then letting go of absolute perfectionism and appreciating the distinctiveness of every print as it is removed from the press.

little reader girl letterpress print

Fresh Lavender Bundles – Tutorial

fresh lavender

What do you do with lavender? My general approach has always been to cut it with great intentions, stick it in a jar to dry, and then throw it out months later when the dust has gathered and half the blossoms have fallen off.

Last winter, however, I was introduced to another way to keep lavender when my aunt gave me this sweet smelling and surprisingly durable sachet bundle. Fashioned only from the lavender itself and some strong thread (the ribbon is purely decorative but adds a nice touch), the sachet traveled safely in packed luggage on at least two cross country flights and has also stood up to investigation by a curious 2-year-old (which is probably even more impressive).

original lavender sachet bundle

With a plentiful supply of lavender needing to be picked, I decided to try my hand at recreating this pretty little bundle.

fresh lavender with sachet

These sachets or bundles keep the flowers from getting everywhere and creating a mess, so they are perfect for nestling in a lingerie drawer, and they are pretty enough to set out on a little shelf or put in a vase. The best part, for me at least, is they must be made immediately after picking the lavender, so there is no forgetting about the project as the lavender gathers dust hanging in a bundle somewhere or stuck in a vase on top of the refrigerator. They also require very little in the way of supplies and are super simple to make. I will show you how I did it.

fresh lavender bundles


Around 20 stalks of fresh lavender
Ribbon (about 8 inches for a decent bow)

Fresh Lavender Sachet Bundles

Cut about 20 stalks of lavender, leaving the stems as long as possible. Arrange them in a bouquet with the bottom petals as close to even as possible. If the flower sections of any stems are much longer than the others you may wish to clip them. Wrap the thread tightly around all the stems just below the lowers blossoms.

secure the lavender stems with strong thread

When the stems are secure, begin to wrap a bit more loosely up the flower section of the lavender. This will help keep the flowers from falling out, but don’t worry about binding all the flowers down with thread as the bent stem “birdcage” we are going to create will do most of the work. Wrap the thread to the tips of the flowers and then back down. Wrap a few more times around the stems and then tie it off nice and tight.

bring the thread up the flower section of the lavender

Now we begin folding the stems over to create the bird cage around the blossoms.

bend the stems backwards over the blossoms

At the point where the stems are tied, fold the stems back one at a time, spacing them as evenly as possible around the flowers. It helps to rotate the bouquet, folding the stems down on opposite sides and then filling in between to secure the gaps. Hold the folded stems in a bunch just past the tip of the flowers.

stems are folded back around the flowers

When all the stems are bent and arranged around the flowers, secure them by binding with thread.

cut the bottom of the stems to make them even

Trim the bottom of the stems so they are even. I left mine fairly long and bound them together again near the bottom, but you could make the stem part shorter. Tie a pretty ribbon over the thread at the top, and voila! A sweet smelling lavender sachet bundle!

lavender sachet bundles

You will want to have some airflow around the lavender while it dries so the flowers won’t mildew or mold, so put it in a vase or set it out on a shelf for a couple weeks.

I am wondering now if other herbs could be bundled this way – maybe mint or rosemary?

Summer Afternoon


She takes off with the pink stroller down the walk. Going outside these days usually involves a stroller and a selection of much beloved babies, or, today, a green plastic ball (also beloved). “This way, Mommy,” she says.


I follow, of course, pausing to pull a few weeds and stopping to take photos of the blossoms we pass. “Takin’ pictures, Mommy?” she asks.


pink flower




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Two is amazing. Challenging in all the ways one hears about, but so fun. Every day she surprises me with a new phrase or the ability to share a thought or an observation. She makes jokes and plays with words and sometimes wants to say things that are a little too complicated and the words just won’t come out properly and she tries and tries and stumbles over the syllables and then finally figures it out.


I see the things we do reflected in her actions all the time now. Funny things, like calling her daddy “Honey”; sweet things, like the way she rocks her babies to sleep. But also the way she pushes the dog away from her chair, reminding me to be ever more aware of even my smallest actions. Seeing her try on my shoes, grab her play phone to “work” when I’m on the phone, examine my face washing technique – it is such an awesome responsibility and such an inspiration to do more, be more.